Nov 3, 2012


Like his previous cinematic works Le salamandre (1969) and Afrika (1973), Alberto Cavallone's Zelda (1974) – a sometimes psychedelic, erotic melodrama about a celebrated racecar driver, his wife, and their merry Ménage à trios lifestyle – is a sufficiently, if superficially, nihilistic work about betrayal, negrophilia, murder, and mayhem from the seemingly preposterous perspective of debauched bourgeois types. Zelda would also be the first film that Cavallone gave into carnal commercialism as he shot scenes of hard pornography for the French version of the film, which I regretfully have yet to see. In a narrative structure quite similar to Afrika, Zelda begins with a scene of the bloody bodies of male protagonist race car driver Mark Davis (Giuseppe Mattei) and his Negress mistress Clarissa (Halina Kim) laying lifeless from what seems like an overly sentimental suicide pact, but as the film progresses and libertine-laden layers of the backstory are peeled back, one soon realizes a fierce and highly hypocritical form of female jealously and treachery is ultimately to blame. Sometimes resembling a shallow arthouse film directed by a pretentious softcore pornographer on LSD, Zelda is best perceived as an elegant erotic flick of the posh pulp persuasion which – not unlike the wanton works of filmmakers Radley Metzger (The Lickerish Quartet, Score), Walerian Borowczyk (Goto, Island of Love, La Marge), and Tinto Brass (Salon Kitty, Caligula) – were quite popular in Europa during the 1970s. Of course, despite its similarities with other films of that era, Zelda – with innately iconoclastic and misanthropic themes and oftentimes anti-erotic sex scenes – has the unmistakable feel of an Alberto Cavallone film, albeit of his more commercial blend. With characters that spout such pseudo-existentialist gibberish like “we must destroy ourselves to justify our existence” and "I detest everything that is normal" – in between talking of beastality and the lack of emotional authenticity in regard to interracial love – one cannot help but be enamored by succulently stylized cinematic sleaze that is Cavallone’s – the one and only – Zelda

Equipped with an action-packed assortment of acid-washed, negative, and overexposed stock footage featuring racecars, crotch-rockets, wild horses, airplanes and whatnot that comprise a large fraction (seemingly to be around ¼ of the film) of film, Zelda is a wayward cinematic kaleidoscope of cool bullshit that oversexed, ritzy twit types are into; none of which I can relate to, yet that does not detract for the rich kitsch of this cross-grained celluloid trainwreck. The title character of the film, Zelda, is a decisively duplicitous bitch with a terrible sexual itch she can’t seem to scratch, hence her particularly perverse propensity for seducing and sleeping with members of both genders instead of her perpetually horny husband. Described in the film as “a dove, a snake and a bitch at the same time” like so many other miserable matriarchs of Italian families, Zelda ultimately is the undisputed duce of the household and she wields power with her (and other people’s) pussy. In short, sex acts as a debauched form of double-dealing in Zelda that leads to familial disintegration and eventually death. Of course, no one is innocent in the film as Zelda’s racecar-driving would-be-superstar husband Henry is more interested in scubadiving than the fact that his college-age daughter Ingrid (played by blonde bombshell Franca Gonella; a woman that can barely pass for 25) is philandering with his middle-aged Negro friend, a fellow racecar driver with a need for speed and pan-sexual degeneracy. Manic for miscegenation, racecar rockstar Henry eventually falls madly and unfalteringly in love with black babe Clarissa (Halina Kim) – the wife of his black buddy – who Zelda initiually seduces, thereupon sparking the torrid threesome that will eventually culminate in the demise of her own marriage. Even after Henry’s botched attempt at suicide, which paralyzes him and thus irreparably pacifies his sexual potency in the process, Clarissa stands behind her melanin-deprived man to the dismay of overzealous Zelda; the queen bitch of her less than humble abode. In the end, Zelda and the rest of the jaded lovers seek bloodthirsty vengeance of the most malevolent, multicultural sort.

 With its cursory yet completely callous and cheaply charming cocktail of hedonistic sex, extreme sports, and mind-numbingly mundane yet unintentionally mirthful melodrama, Zelda is proof that style and cynicism can go a long way for a film that would otherwise be without a single inkling of merit. While nowhere near as worthwhile as Alberto Cavallone's quasi-surrealist sadomasochistic masterpieces of the cine-magically macabre such as Man, Woman, and Beast (1977) and Blue Movie (1978), nor even the phantasmagorical softcore flick Blow Job (1980), Zelda does make for a passable, if secondary, addition to his unruly miscegenation-based melodramas Le salamandre (1969) and Afrika (1973). Ultimately, Zelda is palatable due to its strikingly state-of-the-art synth-based musical score (created by Marcello Giombini), rather Roeg-esque nonlinear editing, pseudo-poetic psychedelic wild horse scenes, sleekly stylized shot composition, and hyper-hysterical scenes of histrionics. As a film with such positively preposterous dialogue as “is it really love or just the desire to sleep with someone with black skin?” and “Hurry up, I’m a bitch in heat,” Zelda is just another great example as to why the Italians made some of the most terribly yet trimly trash films of the 1970s and 1980s.

-Ty E


jervaise brooke hamster said...

I hate Roeg-esque non-linear editing, not because of that editing style, but rather because Nicholas Roeg is British scum.

jimmie t. murakami said...

I`m really looking forward to reading Soiled Sinema's take on "Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia", its not Peckinpah's best film but it is a cult-oddity par-excellence and has always deserved the Soiled Sinema treat-girl-t.